Monday, February 17, 2014

A birthday road trip

By Nicole

It was a big weekend. We were celebrating Aaron’s birthday! So we packed up the car and headed a few hours southeast of Auckland to one of New Zealand’s favorite summertime destinations … the Coromandel Peninsula. This bit of land juts into the South Pacific Ocean and is known for giant green-lipped mussels, beautiful white beaches, lush forests and dramatic vistas. Check, check, check and check.

DSC_7195 (1024x681)The Coromandel Peninsula. It’s kinda pretty, I guess.

We got sidetracked by multiple scenic overlooks and a microbrewery on our way to the Wairua Lodge, which we’d booked for a few days of birthday R & R. Nestled on the edge of the sprawling Coromandel Forest Park, the Lodge was most definitely remote and peaceful (read: no internet, phone or TV … gulp).


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANew Zealand loves its craft beers almost as much as its wine. Mmmm … Hot Water Brewing Co. does good work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACrossing the raging (not-so-raging) river to get to the Wairua Lodge. There is no other way in! Good thing it didn’t rain while we were there, since the river rises in a hurry, and we didn’t get the snorkel option for the Legend.


DSC_7120 (681x1024)Made it!

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DSC_7128 (1024x683)The resident kitty demanded lots of love

DSC_7136 (681x1024)The Treetop Bathhouse

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So the owner of the lodge told us about the trails snaking through the property and about the swimming hole that we just had to check out. It was a hot day, and taking a little swim in the refreshingly chilly river sounded mighty good. Plus there was a rope swing! The water temperature didn’t meet Aaron’s 80-degree minimum, but I was totally in … I even did my best Tarzan impression.

DCIM\100GOPROTesting the water at the swimmin’ hole

Nicole does the rope swing …

The next day, we drove into the town of Whitianga where we caught a tiny passenger ferry across Mercury Bay. We did a little hiking, relaxed on a white sand beach and decided the Coromandel was a pretty sweet spot to celebrate a birthday.

P1231295 (684x1024)The birthday boy goes tramping

DSC_7162 (681x1024)The town of Whitianga and Buffalo Beach

DSC_7164 (1024x681)Wish we were there … on a boat, that is.

DSC_7166 (1024x681)I am a lizard.

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We celebrated Aaron’s birthday with a yummy dinner back at the Hot Water Brewing Co. He was bold enough to try one of my humongous, plump green-lipped mussels, although he about barfed. The sliders, chips, beer and birthday dessert went down a little easier, however.

We headed home the next day by way of the scenic 309 Road (so named because back when it was a horse-and-carriage route, it took 3 hours 9 minutes to get from one end to the other). Not a lot has changed since those days – the 21km-long road is still dirt! Along the way, we stopped to hike to a stand of 600-year-old kauri trees. While these trees are just 600 years old, the oldest tree in New Zealand is a big daddy named Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest) who is thought to be more than 2,000 years old. Wow.



OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“If I could just get to the top, I could build a sweet tree fort.”

I think the birthday boy would agree that it was a great summertime road trip. In fact, being born in January, this is the first time he’s had a “summer” birthday! To top it off, I even baked a yellow cake with chocolate frosting when we got home – no birthday of Aaron’s is complete without that. Yay for birthdays! Yay for summer!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The return of summer

By Nicole

After spending the holidays catching up with family and friends in Seattle, we returned to New Zealand a tad heavier and a lot paler. I’m not going to lie, Washington was cold! And dark. But it was absolutely worth it to spend Christmas with our family, catch up with good friends and devour some amazing food. And with summer in full-swing back in New Zealand, we got the best of both worlds. Here’s a taste of what we’ve been getting up to since we’ve been back. Yay for summer!

Baylys Beach and Dargaville:
Back in Rarotonga, we met a Kiwi guy who was crewing on a boat heading from Aussie to Tahiti. Over plenty of beers and happy hour snacks, we heard about his family’s dairy farm on the North Island and about the sweet surf beach he grew up on. As we parted ways, he told us to look him up when we got to New Zealand, which we totally did. Next thing we knew, we were hanging with him on the west coast, checking out his lovely steel ketch (aptly named Steel Breeze), driving on the beach, hitting up a pool party and crashing at his bach (Kiwi for beach house, and pronounced “batch”). Sweet as. Thanks, Shane!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABaylys Beach – famous for surf and for being the longest drivable beach in the country (over 100 km)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust taking a drive on the beach, as you do.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPool party! After a month in chilly Seattle, the summer sun felt incredible. Thus my huge smile.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPrawns on the barbie

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Morning light at Shane’s bach. I could get used to this.

Shakespear Regional Park:
Just up the road from our marina is one of our favorite places to take a walk – Shakespear Park (yes, it’s spelled that way). It’s great for bird watching and especially great for sheep watching.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAaron disinfecting his shoes to protect the kauri trees


DSC_6978 (1024x681)Sometimes you just have to mow a trail

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DSC_6987 (1024x660)Looking out at Auckland and the volcano, Rangitoto

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DSC_7000 (1024x685)A tui eating nectar from a flax plant

DSC_7013 (1024x681)Here, sheepy, sheepy, sheepy

DSC_7030 (1024x681)The hills are alive. Although with my voice, they probably wish they weren’t.

Waitakere Ranges Regional Park and Piha Beach:
Just west of Auckland City, you’ll find the Waitakere mountain range. It was the perfect spot for a day trip.

DSC_7084 (1024x732)Where’s Aaron?

P1181169 (768x1024)Maori carvings are anatomically correct. Nice.

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P1181180 (1024x768)Arm shot, Waitakere-style (that’s why-tack-er-ee)

DSC_7103 (1024x681)Driving through the Waitakere Range drops you out at the surf beach of Piha. Stunning from a distance …

DSC_7108 (1024x664)… Chockfull of people up close.

DSC_7115 (1024x681)Testing the water temperature (cold)

DSC_7105 (1024x681)Piha coffee break (at some point I’ll need to vent about the coffee here, but that’s for another day)


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALook at that form and concentration. But will it be enough to win?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAaron tallies the scores … Nicole’s the big winner!

In addition to exploring the northern Auckland area, we also had a ton of reunions with old cruising buddies who ended up here in NZ. We went tramping and BBQing with Mark formerly of Compass Rosey, had dinner with Michael, Sara and kids from Wondertime (whom we hadn’t seen since Mexico!), met Adam and Cindi from the good ship Bravo for lunch, and hung out with Zack, who flew over from Aussie. It’s been heaps of fun!

Next up, a trip to the Coromandel Peninsula where I play Tarzan (Jane?) on a rope swing …